When I was contemplating about what to write I decided I would write about real people. Meaning, people I know, knew, met and will meet and try to tell their story that celebrate them and their cause or what they represent.
For this first venture I will introduce you to Myra Musico, a young woman in wheelchair advocating for the rights of people with disability.
We met in August this year when I started looking for someone to help me understand the current situation of disability in my hometown. After several phone calls and FB messages with friends I met Myra and I was easily accommodated in her busy schedule as the Focal Person for PWD* in the city hall and after that first meeting we became good friends.
I met a lot of people in my long experience of traveling and working in the disability sector and I am always happy to meet those that really show the real meaning of “being one with the people” not only because they have disability but they overcome their limitations to become shining examples to others and dream big not only for themselves but for the disability community.
D: (Phone interview) Good afternoon Myra, I have several questions I like to ask you and after I will post this conversation online in my WordlPulse journal and maybe my personal blog. Are you okay to go along with me?
Myra: I am fine as long as you don’t ask me about mathematics.
D: Thank you.
D: Can you please tell us how is your everyday routine?
Myra: Everyday I go to work in the city hall. A tricycle picks me and brings me to work and pick me up in the afternoon back in my house. My driver is our neighbor he assist me to get in and out of the cab and put me in my wheelchair and wheel me to my office. He knows how to fold and open my chair, very helpful.
At home, though living with relatives, I take care of everything I need including preparing my food. My parents are living with my other sister to help take care of their grandchildren. I am single by the way.
On weekends I became just a regular person that my friends picks up to hang out or attend to meetings and visit other people with disability and sometimes government officials unofficially advocating for support for the people in need.
D: In your current situation, how is it to be a woman with disability?
Myra: The easy part is that I get noticed now after working in the city hall for over 2 years now but it’s still difficult to get pass the stigma that because I am disabled and I am a woman I cannot do more or not able to share good ideas. People you expect to help or know the situation of disability are often the people who look down on you – I mean, they often make decision for PWD without consulting us (them) assuming that its fine and expect us to just accept their plans. It’s hard to be working in a politicized institution, you always have to an allegiance like my life and work depends on it.
Though over the years I’ve made good friends both public and private individuals that understand the plight of the PWD and are very approachable when asked for help. For example we need transport to attend meetings or some people I met in the villages need wheelchair they get out of their way to help and I attribute that to my having good relationship with them.
But we also know that PWD cannot just depend on dole out or free help, we have to do something for ourselves by ourselves to be taken seriously and I am trying very hard to make that happen with the group of persons with disability and volunteers. If we are given a chance to prove ourselves, I think we can, someone just have to believe in our capabilities.
D: Following up from your response, how do you use your situation, your disability and your position to inspire others?
Myra: My being always there when they need me is already a big help for many people in my city, anyway where will I go and how far can I go? I cannot wheel myself out far enough to escape or hide (laughter). Plus I am a very positive person, no discrimination gets to me although it hurts but if I show weakness to others (who needs me) then my advocacy would fail. I try not to wallow in sorrow especially when I am at work, always flashing my smile and give out as much information as I can to everybody asking for it. I try to be very helpful.
I like to believe that my position in the city hall gives PWD a fighting chance to be seen or heard though it’s not easy. They know my stand on the situation of disability and they also try to help back and that makes me want to keep on going. So you see they inspire me also.
D: What are your hopes and dreams?
Myra: Of course I hope for a better situation for us people with disability in my city if not the country. But personally I want to go back to school and become a social worker.
I only finished high school because I have to give way for my other siblings to finish university. We didn’t have enough money to send all of us to college so I gave way. When opportunity to study in college came, my mom did not allow me to go far from home, she was afraid I cannot live on my own. Now, I feel that I am lacking the knowledge** but has all the skills to be social worker that’s why I like to go to college. But I don’t know if I can or I would be able to enter any university – I still don’t have the funds (my salary is too little to afford going to school and I have no good internet / computer facilities to access online courses) — so it’s still a dream.
(**In the Philippines most companies measure your abilities based on your credentials first then your experience and to advance in your position you have to get more education)
D: Having stated about discrimination and stigma in your workplace and in general, if you’re given a chance to change something for women and women with disability what would you change?
Myra: Attitude is the biggest obstacle we have in our community. People still thinks that we are not capable of doing something for ourselves and even though the government provided funds for us, we are still not consulted on what we want and if there are attempts to discuss what we want we often don’t get it. It’s like a big come on – just enticing us without concrete actions even though there are glaring evidence what the people with disability need. If we can change attitude or people will have a positive perspective about us then it could be a start of something better for all.
If it’s concrete activity, I want to start a women’s wheelchair basketball team that will compete all around the country. We have men’s wheelchair basketball team from Tahanang Walang Hagdanan but I don’t know if there are women players. Maybe if we are more visible then people will take notice and take us seriously.
D: My last question, if you will have an opportunity to meet someone you admire, alive or dead who would they be and why? (It’s Ms. World like questions)
Myra: I would like to meet (for the dead) Mother Theresa. When I was younger I want to be a nun, I want to help children, she inspired me to help and I want to tell her. I will also ask her advice on how I can reach out to more people and hang out with her when she do that. The next person would be (alive) Kofi Annan, the former UN Secretary General, he is for me an example of a good humanitarian – not a politician.
* PWD – Person /People with Disability